Harry’s case. The Game is on
Right, I’ve just come out of North London County Court this afternoon and I’m far from happy.
Let me introduce you to Harry, not his real name. A 62 year old man, recently diagnosed with Stomach Cancer, who changed from self employment to benefits as a result if his inability to work, and ran up £400 in rent arrears while things were getting sorted.
His letting agent, well known to Safer Renting in two different boroughs for shady goings-on, responds to the arrears by illegally evicting Harry and seizing his possessions in lieu of rent.
Breach: Torts (interference with goods) Act 1977. Commonly know as ‘Trespass to goods’. llegal since 1977.
Where most rogue offenders have the good sense to simply deny any knowledge of the event, this dipstick leaves a note pinned to the tenant’s door saying:-
“We have changed the locks and have your possessions. If you pay us what we owe you will get you possessions back”.
As if this wasn’t evidence enough, the note was signed by the agent on headed paper of the company and with both mobile and landline numbers written on it. So mad and amateurish it caused much mirth in the Safer Renting office. A slam dunk you may think, but not so.
The chase begins
We phoned the agent who was entirely dismissive, even going so far as to mimic a sad, whining voice, saying “Oh poor man, he’s got cancer”, so we moved to stage two and sent letters before action to the agent, all ignored as we expected and went today for an injunction for the return of goods. We couldn’t go for an injunction for re-entry to his home because the property had already been re-let (the case of Love v.Herrity puts paid to that argument).
Instead, we were just trying to get his possessions back as an emergency expedient because without them he was rejected for homelessness assistance and further benefit claiming. A solicitor can add the unlawful eviction to the damages claim later on.
Should assistance have been refused?
No! but that’s another argument.
So we helped Harry to fill an injunction application. Why did we do this and not send him to a solicitor? Speed is one reason, we need to act very quickly if this agent, who as I say, we know from other cases, is to be prevented from destroying Harry’s goods.
The second reason is down simply to the desert of legal aid lawyers with a housing specialism who would even have the capacity to take Harry’s case on at short notice if indeed we could source one.
Harry used his last pennies to pay a non-housing solicitor, who simply wrote to the agent telling him to cough up. He didn’t get a response and Harry wasted his money So we rock up at the County Court having had to make an appointment to hand in the forms by phoning the court the day before.
Now the cost of an application for an injunction is £308 and with costs held as low as possible we set the initial damages at £100, so that there was only £35 to pay for kickstarting the claim but that is still £343, which Harry hasn’t got unless he can provide proof that his application for benefits have been approved, although not yet in payment.
If you can prove this then you don’t have to pay the fee but all this benefits stuff is now online, under your own log-ins. Harry has all the stages of his claim to hand on his smartphone, apart from the one important document confirming he has been accepted for benefits.
The listings clerk says she can’t give him fee remission without that proof. He does have hard copy proof that would enable him to get the injunction for free but where is it?
That’s right, in the possession of the letting agent. The very reason for the injunction application.
We decamp to the job centre to try and get confirmation but the officer there tells Harry its available on his personalised, online account. Except it isn’t, at which point ‘Computer says no’ draws the shutters down on Harry’s chances.
And that’s where the case remains.
Harry has been illegally evicted
- He can’t gain re-entry because the property has been re-let.
- His possessions have been seized by the agent who refuses to release them.
- He can’t get an advance on his Universal Credit because they need certain documents he doesn’t at the moment have, because the agent has them and
- The homelessness unit won’t assist without the various proofs he needs, although to be fair, even if he did have them they might deem him not to be in priority need.
So the poor fella can’t move forward or back.
Among his possessions is his passport, which is actually enough to involve police but in reality, they aren’t interested, deeming all landlord and tenant matters to be civil in nature, not criminal. My colleague Sarah and I (read her funny blog entry about life at Safer Renting here) returned to Cambridge House to work out a Plan B. We don’t yet have one.
This is the reality at the bottom end of renting folks.
The legislative breaches are there, the evidence is indisputable and Harry has us on his side. All that stands in his way are the procedures and laws designed to help him.
We can prosecute the agent for illegal eviction but that will take well over a year. We might even at some point be able to find him a housing solicitor who could do a damages claim against the agent but again this takes time We can help Harry to do a Rent Repayment Order and we will, but this also is no overnight solution and it doesn’t get his property back.
Even if the First Tier Tribunal were to find for Harry on an RRO claim they can’t enforce the debt. You have to fill in another form called an N322b, quoting s27 of the Tribunals Court and Enforcement Act 2007 to convert the Tribunal judgement into a county court money judgement.
Of course then, if they still don’t pay up, you have to find ways of recovering the money. Procedures, procedures and meanwhile, Harry is swapping between a few nights on his sister’s sofa and sleeping in his car.
And here is the final kicker
The named director of the agents, who we have to proceed against is an alias. This same individual has five completely different names that we know of and it’s entirely possible that the person who has to be subject to any proceedings doesn’t even exist.